Ready, set, paint

When Tory Foster paints, everyone, including Poquito, her family's pet Pomerian-Chihuahua mix, knows to stay 25 feet away.

The Cannon School junior is only 17 but already gaining national acclaim as a self-described "speed painter" who finishes her large acrylics in five minutes or less. Her artistry includes hurling globs of paint as finishing touches that can spray out well beyond the canvass.

Foster painted in front of 5,000 people on opening night of the international conference of the Foursquare Church, held in Columbus, Ohio, in May.

In November, she was flown to Portland, Ore, to do a series of three paintings on stage that raised at least $4,500 for Compassion First, which provides spiritual, medical and educational assistance to victims of sexual trafficking. The money included from prints of her works, and she's been invited to a similar event in April for Compassion First in Everett, Wash.

"They are the same age as I am," Foster said of the Indonesian sexual trafficking victims that Compassion First assists, explaining why she wanted to help the group.

She set each of those paintings to different music to reflect the different moods. Her first work that night in Oregon depicted a victim huddled in fear and sorrow. The second showed the victim's hand reaching skyward for help, and the last showed the woman joyous after being freed.

The paintings took three minutes, 45 seconds; two minutes, 45 seconds; and five minutes exactly, but involved numerous hours of research and months of practice on canvasses in her backyard on Lemon Tree Lane.

Foster paints with her hands. By the time she's finished, splotches of paint are all over her, including on her face, shirt, pants and bare feet - and on the family's other pet dog, English setter Heidi, who just sits there.

I saw Foster in action on the lawn of the school on Jan. 31, when she did a speed-painting demo for the Observer.

"You're unbelievable," I said after she'd finished the image of a trafficking victim like the one she did in Portland.

"Not unbelievable," she replied with a smile. "I'm just messy."

Foster, the daughter of Todd and Megan Foster of Concord, also paints before audiences at local churches, including the one her family attends, Harvest Community Church in Concord.

Pastor Jeff Burris was the first person to ask her to paint in front of an audience - a portrait of Christ last Easter - and set it to music. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place, including hers," Burris said.

Burris had showed her a video two weeks before Easter of a man doing a live painting of the crucifixion of Jesus and asked her if she thought she could do something similar for the Easter services. He knew she was an artist from the gift she had given him on the anniversary of his father's passing, and that was the first time she had ever seen anyone paint live like that "The fact that she did that for me told me a lot about her," Burris said of the painting Foster gave him. "It's a God-given gift she has, and she's been willing to be used by Him and touch a lot of people's lives. In today's society, it's great to see youth who are focused on the right things and further the things God's placed in them."

For Foster, painting has been a lifelong passion - she remembers painting lady bug images on stones as a young girl.

But she has many other interests, too. She's a certified master scuba diver who became a certified rescue scuba diver at age 15. She started an Adopt-A-Highway program and garden and vegetarian clubs at her school, "even though I'm not a vegetarian," she said. That club more emphasizes "conscious eating, responsible eating," she said.

She went on a mission trip to Honduras last summer with her grandfather, retired eye surgeon James Wheatley, and helped with surgeries.

She hopes to be accepted into Governor's School but hasn't yet decided on a career path. "Art is not an entirely stable profession," she said, adding that she loves to teach and would like to help students who have special needs.